On Tuesday, Jan. 5, the voters of the state of Georgia participated in two of the most influential Senate elections this year.
Not only did these races signify a groundbreaking shift in what has long been a Republican stronghold, but they attracted significant attention from both political parties, interest groups and the mainstream media, as their results determined the balance of power in the chamber.
Democrats now have 50 senators, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris can break any legislative ties in their favor.
As a result, Democrats have earned a trifecta at the federal level; President-elect Joe Biden will take office in 2 short weeks, and although the GOP netted eleven more House seats, they will only end up with 213 (assuming an undecided race in upstate New York goes to the Republican candidate, as seems likely). The new House re-elected Nancy Pelosi of California to her second consecutive, and fourth overall, term as Speaker.
There were initially few surprises in the Senate elections of Tuesday, Nov. 3. The GOP won back a seat in Alabama, whereas Democrats won both the presidential and Senate races in Arizona and Colorado. Maine was the only state to split the ticket, giving the Biden-Harris ticket 53.1% of the vote, but also handing Susan Collins - a moderate Republican whose seat was heavily targeted due to her votes to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and acquit Trump in impeachment, among others - her fifth term as Senator, with 51%.
However, the fresh battleground of Georgia would deliver the tightest election of any state in 2020, with Biden edging Trump by 11,779 votes for a margin of merely 0.23%. This was the first time since 1992 that a Democratic presidential nominee carried the Peach State.
The shift is largely attributed to the growing, increasingly college-educated, and heavily black Atlanta region and its suburbs, which once were ground zero for Republicans. Politico notes that Biden’s narrow win stemmed from building on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins in three large suburban counties in particular: Cobb, Gwinnett and Henry, from 48%, 51% and 50%, to 56%, 58%, and 59%, respectively. He also won 88% of African Americans in a state where said demographic comprises 29% of the electorate, along with 54% of women, who make up 56%.
Concurrently, both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats were up for grabs. First-termer Sen. David Perdue’s term was set to expire, whereas a special election was set to determine who would serve the remaining two years of Senator Johnny Isakson’s third term, who resigned at the end of 2019 due to an ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease and other health concerns.
Perdue’s opponent Jon Ossoff, a filmmaker and journalist who had narrowly lost a special election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district in 2017, clocked in as the single most expensive Senate race in American history. According to OpenSecrets.org, a political nonprofit research organization, the candidates and their respective outside groups spent nearly $470 million.
Another point of interest, Ossoff is just 33 years old, which will not only make him the youngest Senator, but the first millennial one.
Their campaigns, which were largely virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, were marked by intensity. Perdue earned endorsements from President Trump and Vice President Pence, as well as from a slew of fellow southern Republican senators and interest groups such as the NRA. Ossoff on the other hand won the support of President-elect Biden, former President Obama and several U.S. senators and numerous state legislators from his party.
The Republican senator came under fire in July for running an advertisement that featured his opponent, who is Jewish, with an enlarged nose. After controversy ensued, a Perdue campaign spokesperson claimed it to be accidental, saying it was due to the resizing of the picture with a filter applied, and added that his candidate has a “strong and consistent record of standing firmly against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate.”
In response, Ossoff tweeted his disagreement with the statement, denouncing the action as “the oldest, most obvious, least original anti-Semitic trope in history,” per his Twitter account.
Closer to the election, the Democratic nominee slammed his opponent for a recent scandal in which he was investigated for insider trading. Indeed, the New York Times notes Senator Perdue had made 2,596 trades during his term, and sometimes over 20 in a single day. For example, he sold over $1 million worth of stock in Cardlytics - a financial analysis firm - as well as shares in JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, other banks and even some cybersecurity companies.
What drew particular scrutiny, however, was his decision to sell virtually all of his stock holdings, between $3.2 and $9.4 million worth, at the beginning of the pandemic, right when the market was tanking. Although this was widely seen as corruption, there is greater debate as to whether his actions were truly illegal per se. Federal prosecutors declined to bring a case, citing the potential difficulties of formally charging an incumbent U.S. Senator.
In the second debate, Ossoff attacked Perdue’s record by noting the senator voted four times to end health insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Perdue then skipped the third and final debate, at which Ossoff debated an empty podium and denounced his opponent as a crook. Perdue repeatedly slammed Ossoff, meanwhile, with the tired “radical socialist” label.
The second race was between Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rev. Raphael Warnock, and OpenSecrets.org notes this was the second-most expensive Senate race ever at over $361 million.
Worthy of note is that Loeffler’s husband, Jeff Sprecher, is the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, and she was the wealthiest senator during her year in office, with a net worth of over $800 million.
Although these candidates earned many of the same endorsements as Perdue and Ossoff, respectively, Loeffler scored additional support from many Trump administration officials, while Warnock earned a prized endorsement from former President Jimmy Carter - a Georgia native and lifelong resident.
Loeffler’s running of a Facebook ad that artificially darkened the skin of Warnock, who is African American, drew heavy criticism from the mainstream media. Like Perdue, she was accused of corruption for insider trading as Yahoo notes she sold over $3.1 million worth of stock just before a COVID-related market downturn hit, after attending a briefing that discussed the economic implications of the pandemic. Loeffler also branded her opponent as a “radical socialist” who wanted “to fundamentally change America.”
Meanwhile, Warnock came under fire from right-wing media sources for a number of his past comments, one being a comment he made saying that “nobody can serve God and the military.” Some have also condemned his ardent support of abortion rights, given his position in the church. More broadly, some have accused him of using his pastorship to make political arguments against the Second Amendment, law enforcement, and President Trump.
On election night in November, Perdue won over 92,000 votes more than Ossoff, but achieved only 49.73% of the vote as a Libertarian Party candidate won over 115,000 votes. In the other race, a crowded field of six Republicans and six Democrats split 49.37% and 48.39% of the vote, respectively. Since no candidate won a majority of the vote, both advanced to runoff elections scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 5.
Since then, it has become clear that Democrats Ossoff and Warnock have emerged victorious. Current reports from the Associated Press indicate they won their races by slim margins of over 50,000 and 88,000 votes, respectively. The date on which they take office has yet to be determined.